"America First" foreign policy may mean ignoring human rights, Rex Tillerson says

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that North Korea and its nuclear programs are the top priority of Washington's foreign policy.

Mr. Tillerson's remarks, to US diplomats and employees at the State Department on Wednesday, amounted to the clearest expression yet of President Donald Trump's "America First" foreign policy doctrine, in which the USA won't condition its approach to other countries based on "how they treat people", he said.

Some countries have told the USA they "are taking measures and steps, relooking (at) the size of North Korea's diplomatic presence in individual countries, their activities, their commercial transactions that are conducted under diplomatic cover in the light", Murphy said.

"The difference, I think, in our approach this time is we're going to test this assumption, so I told the president we've got to test that", Tillerson said Wednesday, in his second address to State Department employees.

The region's top diplomats will likely be more focused on the Trump administration's trade policy and its dealings with China and what it means for US policy toward the South China Sea, where several members of the bloc have territorial disputes with Beijing.

During his speech, Tillerson added that not always asking foreign countries to adopt USA values "doesn't mean that we leave those values on the sidelines".

On China, Tillerson said the United States has a "tremendous opportunity" to define its relationship with the superpower for the next several decades, and that he sensed great interest by the Chinese leadership to do that as well.

He said, without providing specifics, that "considerable common ground was identified" between the US and ASEAN on North Korea.

"If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we've come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests", Tillerson said.

In a press conference after the meeting, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy reported Tillerson as saying this after making it clear that the Trump administration's aim is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Tillerson also warned that Washington would sanction foreign firms and people conducting business with North Korea if countries did not act themselves.

Manalo said the way to go forward with North Korea was through dialogue and de-escalation of tensions.

-In Asia, he said the USA has prepared new sanctions on North Korea.

The former Exxon Mobil CEO distinguished between USA "values", which he described as enduring, and "policies", which Tillerson said must adapt to the times.

Tillerson's remarks set off a fresh wave of backlash from administration critics still questioning President Trump's offers to meet with controversial foreign leaders like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

Murphy said Tillerson stressed that ASEAN remained a "very important. strategic partner", which is shown by Trump's commitment to attend regional summits in the Philippines and Vietnam in November.

"The South China Sea issue involves China and a few members of ASEAN", said Geng at a daily briefing, adding, "we hope that countries outside the region could respect efforts made by countries in the region for peace and stability in the South China Sea".

This coincided with moves by China and ASEAN to draft a framework to negotiate a code of conduct.

  • Zachary Reyes